First Ladies Library Blog

Welcome to the National First Ladies Library blog. This replaces the “asked/answered” page and all information from it has been transferred to the blog. Here will be an ongoing public forum on the work of the NFLL and its collections, discussion on new and emerging scholarship and popular publications, news stories, and any other information or discoveries related to directly to the subject of First Ladies. The public is invited to engage here with questions on the subject.

Research, reading and writing on the subject of American First Ladies opens windows into so many fascinating aspects of not just national and international history and culture but contemporary issues as well.

Enjoy our blog and feel free to post your comments.

A Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depiction of Alice Roosevelt's debut party receiving line in December 1902. (Leslie's)

A Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper depiction of Alice Roosevelt’s debut party receiving line in December 1902. (Leslie’s)

This article is adapted from a response to a public inquiry about holiday dance parties hosted by First Ladies

Along with the traditional forms of entertainment and celebrations overseen and arranged by First Ladies during the holiday season, at the turn of the last century several of them hosted dance parties for their young adult children and relatives in the days between Christmas and New Year’s, giving the week an event with a bit of extra luster.

Mrs. Adams. (history.com)

Mrs. Adams. (history.com)

Abigail Adams hosted the first such party, inviting the few children of officials living in the new capital city of Washington in 1800 during her two months residency in what was then the new presidential mansion.

Living with her was her toddler granddaughter Suzanna and the First Lady wanted to have the child enjoy the holiday season, given that her own father was then terminally ill with alcoholism.

Southern presidential families were more accustomed to celebrating the holiday season with gusto in the 19th century than were New Englanders. The large and hospitable Tyler family of Virginia, with both young and adult children and several grandchildren brought with them the festive proclivities of the plantation slave-owner class.

Priscilla Tyler. (University of Alabama)

Priscilla Tyler. (University of Alabama)

Although details of their Christmastime celebrating in 1842 is scant, we do know that the by-then widowed President and his First Lady, daughter-in-law Priscilla, entertained Firstmarked by holiday parties for all of them, as well as those of family friends.

With all the young grandchildren, nieces and nephews who visited the Taylor White House, daughter Betty Taylor Bliss, who assumed the role of public hostess while her mother Peggy oversaw private entertaining managed holiday festivities. (cyberstamps.com)

Betty Taylor Bliss. (cyberstamps.com)

As overseen by the two First Ladies of Zachary Taylor’s administration, his wife Peggy and daughter Betty, four grandchildren, and a half-dozen young nieces and nephews gathered together for seemingly perpetual holiday fun in the White House, the record showing a large number of their kinfolk visiting from Kentucky, Virginia and Louisiana.

Two Tennessean First Ladies Emily Donelson, hostess for her uncle Andrew Jackson, and Martha Patterson, the public hostess for her father Andrew Johnson, arranged large and formal Christmas parties for the large number of small grandchildren composing their White House families.

Among these parties, the ones which captured the public imagination were the debuts into the social scene of several presidential daughters. The “coming out party” as it is sometimes called, was a rite of passage for young women from wealthy and influential families.

A Victorian era debutante ball. (pinterest)

A Victorian era debutante ball. (pinterest)

Usually a formal dancing party, or “cotillion” with a late supper, the event served as the initial social event at which they appeared and this “social debut” served as a public signal that the women were now able to attend social events on their own.

Typically wearing formal gowns of white to suggest the purity of their youth, and being “presented” in a formal lineup with other young women of the social elite class, the debutante ball took place at different times of the year between the autumn and spring.

Julia Grant.

Julia Grant.

In Washington, where even the calendar of social events revolved around the times that Congress was in session and not in recess, it usually took place in the holiday season.

Ida McKinley's favorite niece, Mary Barber, lived in the White House for long periods, including the holiday season of 1898, when her aunt hosted a Blue Room dance. (Ida McKinley)

Ida McKinley’s favorite niece, Mary Barber, lived in the White House for long periods, including the holiday season of 1898, when her aunt hosted a Blue Room dance. (Ida McKinley)

The first First Lady to arrange such an event for her daughter during the holiday season was Julia Grant.

Many were startled that she permitted her daughter Nellie Grant to “come out” at the age of only sixteen in December of 1873. The event, however, was staged outside of the White House.

The first Christmas dance hosted by a First Lady occurred in 1898, when Ida McKinley organized a party for a house full of her and the President’s young nieces and nephews. Refreshments were served in the State Dining Room but the music and dancing was in the Blue Room.

Alice Roosevelt. (wikipedia)

Alice Roosevelt. (wikipedia)

Perhaps the most famous party hosted by a First Lady at the White House for a presidential child was the December 1902 debut party staged by Edith Roosevelt for her unpredictable stepdaughter Alice. In attendance at the event was her distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Alice was not too pleased with the First Lady’s decision not to serve champagne, but rather a punch, and limit the hours of dancing. In later years, she remarked that her holiday party at the White House was “dreadful.” The public at the time had no idea of this. In fact, newspapers reporting on her holiday debut described her this way:

“She can cow fence, dance, ride and is expert In many exercises which give a good setup and encourage strong vitality. Miss Roosevelt is rather tall, slight in build, has dark eyes and light brown hair. Her face is full of sweetness and character, with an aim. intelligent expression. Best of all. she looks wholesome and happy and like an ideal American girl.”

Ethel Roosevelt. (pinterest)

Ethel Roosevelt. (pinterest)

In one of the last gatherings of the Theodore Roosevelt extended family, the First Lady hosted a second debutante party, this time for her daughter Ethel on December 28, 1908, about two and a half months before the end of the Administration.

Newspapers covering the anticipation of the event reported that Ethel Roosevelt showed a degree of disinterest in the social life ahead that her mother had planned for her, preferring instead the company of her dog Ace and horse Montauk.

Very much a tomboy and seemingly one of the gang of boys that included her brothers and their friends. She was described as a bit of a cut-up, known for giving a playful slap on the back of her brothers.

This print showing Edith Roosevelt, second from left, with her family during the 1908 Christmas season actually depicts the children as much younger than they were by that time. (NPS)

This print showing Edith Roosevelt, second from left, with her family during the 1908 Christmas season actually depicts the children as much younger than they were by that time. (NPS)

Edith Roosevelt did not ignore her four boys, however.

Days before Christmas in 1903, Ted, Kermit, Archie and Quentin along with some five-hundred of their friends and other children were invited to a “winter festival” with fake snow, a tall ice cream Santa Claus, dancing and supper.

Just two years later, Edith Roosevelt’s successor Nellie Taft hosted a third successive White House debut party during the holiday season, for her daughter Helene (as her given name “Helen” was pronounced by her family and friends). In contrast to the Roosevelt daughters, the Taft holiday party took place in the afternoon, from five to seven.

Helene Taft. (Library of Congress)

Helene Taft. (Library of Congress)

The First Lady was as prominent a figure at the party as her daughter, the two of them standing together at the south end of the East Room, to welcome two-thousand five-hundred guests.

Those invited to attend first met Mrs. Taft, dressed in ” delft blue chiffon, over white satin and trimmed in sable bands,” who then introduced guests to her daughter. At one point the President stood on the other side of Helene to join his wife and daughter.

Helene Taft in a White House photographic portrait colorized by digital artist AlixofHesse. (deviantart.com)

Helene Taft in a White House photographic portrait colorized in “Helene Pink” by digital artist AlixofHesse. (deviantart.com)

There were two elements at the holiday party that proved visually stunning.

In all the rooms of the state floor were endless bowers of pink roses offering a fresh tone to the green evergreen touches of the holiday season.

And then there was “Miss Helene” herself.

Active in progressive movement reforms intended to help working-class young women and academic in her interests, she decided to break from the tradition of debutantes wearing white dresses.

Instead, she wore a gown of rose-colored satin with “a long pointed tunic over a satin underdress,” and holding a bouquet of pink roses. She wore her hair in a “slightly waved pompadour, and a coil.”

Cal, Jr., President Coolidge, John and Grace Coolidge. (Library of Congress)

Cal, Jr., President Coolidge, John and Grace Coolidge. (Library of Congress)

Between the flowers and the First Daughter’s gown, a new color of “Helen Pink” was declared by local stores carrying women’s dresses in the color, much as had “Alice Blue” been made a popular color in honor of Alice Roosevelt’s favorite color.

FDR, Jr. and his wife Betsey. (pinterest)

FDR, Jr. and his wife Betsey. (pinterest)

In 1923, after the numerous holiday activities and private family celebration of Christmas Day, Grace Coolidge hosted a holiday dance for her two sons, John and Calvin, Jr. who were both home from the same Pennsylvania boarding school.

A decade later, Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a similar event for her annual dances for her two youngest sons, John a boarding school student at Groton, and Franklin, Jr. a freshman at Harvard University.

Six months after “Frank” married heiress Ethel Dupont in June of 1937, the couple were given permission by the First Lady to use the White House to host a Christmas dance party for their contemporaries and did so again two years later.

The First Lady's niece and namesake, who authored a memoir about the First Lady in 2005.  (Davis Enterprise)

Eleanor Roosevelt’s niece and namesake, who authored a memoir about the First Lady in 2005. (Davis Enterprise)

There were no sedate waltzes, however, but rather the exciting sound of the most popular music of the era, “swing,” and the First Lady was reportedly in attendance briefly.

And the First Lady, despite all of her work on behalf of others, be it policy negotiating behind the scenes or public acts of benevolence, made sure to put time aside and plan what would be the final of the four White House holiday debutante parties.

It took place in December of 1938 and was held in honor of her niece and namesake, Miss Eleanor Roosevelt.

The FDR family gather for Christmas 1939 in the East Room. (FDRL)

The FDR family gather for Christmas 1939 in the East Room. (FDRL)

According to an article on the White House Historical Association’s website, the First Lady and her brother, Hall, studied the faces of the dozens of young Roosevelt cousins who attended, trying to determine who they were by their potential resemblance to their parents.

Finally, while Mrs. Roosevelt gave the adult, young adult and students in the generation behind her, she didn’t forget the youngest Roosevelts; in the early years of the administration, she hosted Christmas parties for her growing brood of grandchildren.

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The Most Iconic Images of First Ladies

Jacqueline Kennedy's familiar, and now, iconic pink a suit worn at the moment of President Kennedy's Dallas assassination in 1963. (JFKL)

Jacqueline Kennedy’s familiar, and now, iconic pink a suit worn at the moment of President Kennedy’s Dallas assassination in 1963. (JFKL)

This larger article is adapted from a response to a media inquiry regarding the visual significance of the iconic pink suit Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing at the time of President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.

The important power of the visual in the political world is unquestionable, increasingly so as each generation enjoys new technological advances in photography. And in no political realm is iconic imagery more scrutinized and central than that of the presidency. Sometimes a single ephemeral image snapped at the right moment can linger in the imagination and have a far greater impact than a speech or a website detailing policy, particularly if it captures an important historical moment.

Certainly the impact of the simple, wordless image of Jacqueline Kennedy in her pink suit and hat just before, during and after the moment of her husband’s assassination in 1963 is proof of this. Pictures showing her in those clothes that day have come to immediately summon the thought of not just a turning point for the Kennedy presidency but the entire nation and its history. This is true for not just those alive and old enough to remember the tragedy, but all those born since.

Other iconic images of First Ladies may not carry as emotionally dramatic a symbolism. Still, since the World War I era when constantly snapping the presidential wives became more frequent and routine by the news photographers who cover the White House, images of certain moments or scenarios have come to stand out as representative images of what these women accomplished and how they came to be perceived.

Here are some of those photographs that seem to do so best with the seventeen First Ladies from Edith Wilson to Michelle Obama.

I

From the fall of 1919 until the late winter of 1921, as her husband struggled to recover from a stroke, the debility of which First Lady Edith Wilson prevented from being fully disclosed, she vigilantly protected him and his reputation, never away from his side. The only glimpses the public had of him at this time was during carriage rides Edith took with him. This image perfectly captured her role, although the public did not yet know the truth about his stroke – and her role during it,

This image, appearing in a popular weekly magazine, World’s Work, was more than an image of the new and folksy First Lady Florence Harding and her Airedale dog Laddie Boy; it symbolized her passionate commitment to animal rights, rescue and protection organizations, often lending Laddie’s presence to fundraisers. (World’s Work)

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Grace Coolidge accommodated the request of more press photographers than had any of her predecessors and came to perfect the “photo op,” The former teacher of the deaf famously posed with the hearing and sight disability advocate Helen Keller and the image was widely circulated in newspapers of the time. (LC)

Comparatively subdued as First Lady compared to her earlier public activities, the general public came to identify Lou Hoover closely with her long-term role as a leader of the Girl Scout movement and she was most recognizable from her frequent photographs in the organization uniform. (HHPL)

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Among the many diverse scenes of American life where Eleanor Roosevelt seemingly appeared suddenly, none captured the public imagination as did her donning a metal mining hat and descending by cart into a coal mine. (FDRL)

This 1936 image of Eleanor Roosevelt being escorted by two African-American men as she visited the campus of Howard University was used by segregationists in pamphlets intended to protest her revolutionary efforts towards racial equality; conversely it was circulated among the black community as a hopeful sign of improved conditions. (LC)

This 1936 image of Eleanor Roosevelt being escorted by two African-American men as she visited the campus of Howard University was used by segregationists in pamphlets intended to protest her revolutionary efforts towards racial equality; conversely it was circulated among the black community as a hopeful sign of improved conditions. (LC)

During World War II Eleanor Roosevelt wore the uniform of the American Red Cross to visit approximately ten percent of the entire USA Armed Forces o active duty in Europe and the Pacific. She was transformed into the symbol of true "American mother," according to one popular publication  read by servicemen at the time.  (FDRL)

During World War II Eleanor Roosevelt wore the uniform of the American Red Cross to visit approximately ten percent of the entire USA Armed Forces o active duty in Europe and the Pacific. She was transformed into the symbol of true “American mother,” according to one popular publication read by servicemen at the time. (FDRL)

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By her own determination, Bess Truman was viewed in the one-dimensional role of traditional wife, albeit one unhappy with being in the political spotlight. The most prolific image of her, supportive and serious, was snapped at the moment her husband assumed the presidency upon FDR’s sudden 1945 death and remained uppermost in the public perception of her.

Assuming her role as First Lady at the dawn of the 1950s, Mamie Eisenhower was closely associated with her favorite color pink. While she used it often in clothing and decor often during her eight years, it was her sparkling first inaugural gown in the color the public came to call “Mamie Pink” that became iconic. (Smithsonian)

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Few First Ladies better reflected the evolving values and priorities of the majority of American women at the time of their tenure than did Mamie Eisenhower in her role asa devoted grandmother. Many photographs regularly depicted her in this,her favorite familiar role. (DDEPL)

Although she made many visually startling appearances during many foreign trips, it was her regal bearing during her first state trip with the President, to Paris, as she joined him to proceed to Versailles for a formal dinner, which singularly captivated the world's attention of this new type of modern American woman. (Getty)

Although she made many visually startling appearances during many foreign trips, it was her regal bearing during her first state trip with the President, to Paris, as she joined him to proceed to Versailles for a formal dinner, which singularly captivated the world’s attention of this new type of modern American woman. (Getty)

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Although Jackie Kennedy’s 1962 television tour of the White House was in black and white, and not color, it proved to be the most sustained glimpse of an American First Lady that the people of the country had ever had, and it so seared a permanent impression of her appearance and voice into the public mind that she was ever after easily mimicked and parodied for how she moved and spoke. (CBS)

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Just as the image of her pink suit symbolized one of the most violent and shocking events in 20th century American history, Jackie Kennedy’s strong yet sad appearance behind a black veil as her son saluted the coffin of his father was the most iconic image of the world’s mournful farewell to the young world leader. (AP)

While there was no one individual image of Lady Bird Johnson planting flowers or trees that crystallized her primary public project of “Beautification,” which came to be the leading issue with which the public would identify her.

Lady Bird Johnson's other most familiar role in the public's mind was being the human face of LBJ's "War on Poverty" social legislation, most prominently as a key promoter of Head Start. The now seemingly requisite photos of First Ladies sitting on small plastic grade school chairs and reading books to children began with Mrs. Johnson. (LBJL)

Lady Bird Johnson’s other most familiar role in the public’s mind was being the human face of LBJ’s “War on Poverty” social legislation, most prominently as a key promoter of Head Start. The now seemingly requisite photos of First Ladies sitting on small plastic grade school chairs and reading books to children began with Mrs. Johnson. (LBJL)

In her bright red winter coat, Pat Nixon's arrival in China with President Nixon for his unprecedented 1972 state visit is perhaps the most iconic image of her as First Lady. Another, some might argue, was her sad expression on the podium the day he resigned. (RMNPL)

In her bright red winter coat, Pat Nixon’s arrival in China with President Nixon for his unprecedented 1972 state visit is perhaps the most iconic image of her as First Lady. Another, some might argue, was her sad expression on the podium the day he resigned. (RMNPL)

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Like the Kennedy assassination, the Nixon resignation was viewed as a tragic end of a presidency. As he delivered his final speech as president just hours before his resignation took effect, Pat Nixon stood stoically at his side, a dramatic finale to a role of ultimate loyalty that most believed she best embodied. (RMNPL)

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While she looked the part of the authentic suburban mom that she truly was, Betty Ford was also an overt feminist who spoke easily and casually about the need for gender equity. Wearing a large but simple button making clear her support of the Equal Rights Amendment, she redefined the old visual caricature of the “women’s libber.” (GRFPL)

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At the time she underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer, Betty Ford decided to openly discuss the crisis in order to encourage other women to seek early detection through a mammography; the intent of what she was discussing was made all the more powerful by the White House deciding to publicly release the first images that showed a First Lady in such a private moment, confined to a hospital bed. (GRFPL)

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Both in tandem with her husband and on her own terms, Rosalynn Carter’s compassionate humanitarianism might have been perceived as more a cerebral act until a series of images were released showing her physical interactions among suffering and dying rCambodian refugees on the Thailand border in 1979/ In fact, the photographs of her are credited with provoking the American reception of the refugees. (JCPL)

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The proof of her physical presence in the Oval Office on a weekly basis to maintain a standing lunch meeting with the President especially underlined the political partnership Rosalynn Carter maintained with her husband. (JCPL)

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Just two months after they entered the presidency, Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt in Washington, D.C. Although already known for her especially devoted attentiveness to her husband, the new First Lady immediately demanded that she be rushed to his side. This first image of the surviving, but ailing President was the one released to the public and captured the protective and encouraging nature of Nancy Reagan’s role as his wife. (RRPL)

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In the course of beginning her national campaign to raise awareness about the harm of illegal drugs and prevent young children from experimenting with them, Nancy Reagan replied to a question from a student about how to best turn away offers of drugs from older children. Her response became a slogan that not only became the banner of her effort but a catchphrase of her era. In dozens of images during the Reagan Administration, the First Lady met with students, spoke at rallies, and attended functions where the phrase “Just Say No” was prominently displayed with her. (RRPL)

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Not since Grace Coolidge had a First Lady become so closely associated with a dog as did Barbara Bush and her springer spaniel Millie. Many images were taken of them together at White House events where she brought the dog along as her companion, but this one, with the president’s wife on the distinctive Truman Balcony in formal clothes, beaming a smile as she holds her dog close in her arms, captured the relationship. Used as the cover image for the book Millie “wrote” (with Mrs. Bush’s help), it proliferated. (GBPL)

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With her own large family and – by her own words – her white hair and figure, Barbara Bush assumed a public persona of grandmother, a nurturing image that manifested itself in addressing the controversial social issue of the AIDS epidemic by her simple embrace of children living with the virus. (GBPL)

Hillary Clinton’s overtly political partnership with the President was given immediate specificity in the first weeks of the administration when she was put in charge of organizing the effort for a massive health care reform initiative. The rare image of a First Lady testifying before Congress with a professional faculty for policy seemed to best crystallize her role. (WJCPL)

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With the greatest threat to the survival of her husband’s presidency involving his adultery, the scandal inevitably blended an overtly public crisis with a private betrayal, Hillary Clinton became the central focus of the world’s attention, her every move or mood or remark reported and analyzed. The simple wordless image of her and her husband managing their emotional estrangement by the link of both holding a hand of their daughter seemed to best represent the period.

Although not directly involved in any of the policy matter related to the Afghanistan War, Laura Bush became publicly associated with the renewal of women's lives there in a wide variety of efforts, from education to professional training.  (GWBPL)

Although not directly involved in any of the policy matters related to the war on terrorists in Afghanistan, Laura Bush became publicly associated with the renewal of women’s lives in that country in a wide variety of efforts, from education to professional training. It was a positive gesture undertaken without rhetoric yet a bold and optimistic strike at the limitations that had been placed on women’s lives there as a result of terrorist control. (GWBPL)

Having earned a graduate degree in library science and then worked as a librarian, Laura Bush’s celebration of the book format of the written word, merged with political events when Hurricane Katrina wiped out many small, local libraries – and the First Lady began a national effort to rebuild the structures, believing them to be important not only as centers of learning but community gathering. (GWBPL)

This image of Michelle Obama and England’s Queen Elizabeth hugging each other’s back, taken in the early months of the Obama Administration, seemed to crystallize the new First Lady’s accessible informality even in formal attire during a state visit. (AP)

Michelle Obama working with children in the White House vegetable garden she created as a way of focusing attention on nutrition and childhood obesity. (WH)

Michelle Obama working with children in the White House vegetable garden she created as a way of focusing attention on nutrition and childhood obesity; there is no one particular image of her in the garden that stands out in the public mind as much as the action she is taking in them. (WH)

 

 

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The First Lady Who Sang A Love Song to Her Husband

 

Nancy Reagan, Marvin Hamlisch, Kitty Carlisle, Sarah Vaughn, the Manhattan Transfer, George Merritt and Priscilla Baskerville during an In Performance at the White House, "Tribute to American Music" in East Room, October 26, 1986. (RRPL)

Singing “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” Nancy Reagan, Marvin Hamlisch, Kitty Carlisle, Sarah Vaughn, the Manhattan Transfer, George Merritt and Priscilla Baskerville during an In Performance at the White House, “Tribute to American Music” in East Room, October 26, 1986. (RRPL)

This article is adapted from a response to a media inquiry about whether there was a particular song identified with Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

The Reagans celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in the White House, 1982. (RRPL)

The Reagans celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in the White House, 1982. (RRPL)

There have been many couples in love who lived in the White House, but none were so public about their romance than Nancy and Ronald Reagan. In fact, there is even a specific piece of music associated with their marriage.

And once, the First Lady performed it, singing to the President.

The song is “Our Love is Here to Stay.” How this standard became an apparent favorite of the presidential couple is unclear, but there are at least two known circumstances when, as the incumbent First Lady sang it to the President, and another when it was especially performed for them.

The Reagans with England's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip aboard the yacht Britannia, the latter couple hosting an anniversary dinner for the former there. The piano at left was played while the First Lady again serenaded her husband with "Our Love is Here to Stay." (britain-magazine.com)

The Reagans with England’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip aboard the yacht Britannia, the latter couple hosting an anniversary dinner for the former there. The piano at left was played while the First Lady again serenaded her husband with “Our Love is Here to Stay.” (britain-magazine.com)

In 1983, while invited to celebrate their wedding anniversary on the royal yacht Britannia, by a visiting Queen Elizabeth of England, then visiting the Reagans in California with her husband, the First Lady serenaded the President with the song as aide Mike Deaver played the piano.

Then, three years later she repeated her singing performance on October 26, 1986 during the East Room taping of a public television special covering the first of four concerts of popular American music, focused on George Gershwin – the song’s composer.

In a closing number, along with performers including The Manhattan Transfer, Sarah Vaughan, and Kitty Carlisle Hart, composer Marvin Hamlisch took the microphone and sang a line from the song, “It’s very clear, our love is here to stay…”

The Reagans hosting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis at their final state dinner. (CNN)

The Reagans hosting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis at their final state dinner. (CNN)

Mrs. Reagan then grasped the microphone, rose from her seat and turned around to look at her husband, singing the lyrics to him: “But oh my dear, our love is here to stay. Not for a year, but ever and a day…Together we’re going a long, long way…”

Sheet music for the theme song of the Reagan marriage.

Sheet music for the theme song of the Reagan marriage.

Finally, at the last Reagan state dinner, in November of 1988 honoring British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, the after-dinner entertainment was a piano performance by pianist Michael Feinstein.

Among the numbers he played for guests that night was, “Our Love is Here to Stay.” Although he pointed out that it was “Mrs. Reagan’s favorite song” she did not serenade the President with it this time.

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First Ladies & The White House South Lawn

Under Michelle Obama's sponsorship, Girl Scouts camped out on the White House South Lawn for the first time in history. (The White House)

Under Michelle Obama’s sponsorship, Girl Scouts camped out on the White House South Lawn for the first time in history. (The White House)

This article is an adaption of a detailed response to a recent media about First Lady Michelle Obama’s unique and consistent use of the White House South Lawn as a venue for promotion of her “Let’s Move!” program.

A performance on the South Lawn during the years Laura Bush was First Lady. (GWBPL)

A performance on the South Lawn during the years Laura Bush was First Lady. (GWBPL)

For more than two centuries, the White House has consistently served as a powerful symbol of the United States, generally, and the American Presidency, specifically.

Despite all of the interior and exterior architectural changes that have shaped its evolution as a visual center of attention, one element most easily overlooked is the very foreground which has always served to provide a frame, so to speak, for the white sandstone and marble building has been the broad greensward of the South Lawn.

Like the mansion’s interiors and exteriors, the South Lawn has changed over the decades, put to use for various purposes at the direction of not just the Presidents but the First Ladies.

Certainly, one of the earliest accounts placing a First Lady on the South Lawn is of Dolley Madison.

Although she was not yet the wife of the president but rather the secretary of state at the time, she appeared at President Thomas Jefferson’s Independence Day 1801 reception, held on the South Lawn.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

With his announcement on July 4th two years later of the Louisiana Purchase, Mrs. Madison used the annual lawn event to help supplement government support for necessary goods for the famous Lewis and Clark expedition that would explore the far reaches of the western portion of what would become the entire United States. Wax, silver cooking utensils, oil lamps were among the practical supplies that she, according to legend, gathered that day on the lawn both through donated items and funds to purchase them

Although there would be intermittent efforts to formally landscape the White House South Lawn, Angelica Van Buren was unfairly singled out in an exaggerated claim by a political opponent of her father-in-law, President Martin Van Buren.

Angelica Van Buren in later years. (LC)

Angelica Van Buren in later years. (LC)

Among the charges of royal living made by a Whig Congressman against Van Buren, he suggested that the presidential hostess, having taken a honeymoon tour that included visits to the British and French royal households and gardens, convinced Van Buren to similarly re-landscape the South Lawn with a regal touch.

Letitia Tyler was rarely seen by the public, having suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed but she still directed the social events from her second floor suite.

A present but publicly inactive First Lady Letitia Tyler, painted by Lyle Tayson in 1979. (artworkoriginals)

Letitia Tyler. ((artworkoriginals)

While specific documentation crediting her for the innovation of hosting Marine Band concerts open for the public to enjoy in the summer of 1841 is unknown, these did first take place at that time and her daughter-in-law Priscilla Tyler, who served as the President’s hostess in her stead, appeared at these with the public.

Public Marine Band concert on the White House lawn, sponsored by the Hardings, 1921. (WHHA)

Public Marine Band concert on the White House lawn, sponsored by the Hardings, 1921. (WHHA)

Another invalid First Lady, Eliza Johnson, enjoyed from afar the unique use of the South Lawn by her grandchildren.

Among the earliest definitive accounts of the now annual White House Easter Egg Roll dates to the Andrew Johnson Administration, although it appears to have been more of a private event for the presidential grandchildren and their friends, while the First Lady watched from the South Portico.

By the time Lucy Hayes was First Lady, the large children’s garden party was established and would continue to this day, except in times of war and presidential illness.

The South Lawn became something of a public park by the end of the 19th century, so much so that First Lady Frances Cleveland felt rather besieged about having strangers wander across what is technically the back lawn of the presidential home.

Frances Cleveland was horrified to see tourists passing around her children on the South Lawn. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Frances Cleveland was horrified to see tourists passing around her children on the South Lawn. (carlanthonyonline.com)

When, from an upstairs window, she saw that tourists on the South Lawn had stopped her children’s nursemaid and were picking up and passing around her daughters, she decided that the family must relocate to a private home and use the mansion for only social events she and the President would have to host.

The South Lawn was closed to all during World War I, but it was still put to use under the era of Edith Wilson. It was there that she and the President came to watch a demonstration of one of the first federal airmail planes. Capturing the public imagination at the time was the sight of sheep grazing the South Lawn.

The Wilson sheep. (ghostsofdc.com)

The Wilson sheep. (ghostsofdc.com)

The unusual vision of sheep on the first house of the lawn was intended to serve as an example of how the presidential household was doing its part to reduce a reliance on manual laborers like groundskeepers at a time when all effort had to be directed towards the war effort.

Florence Harding gave greater focus to the South Lawn than perhaps any of her predecessors.

With the advent of the decade dubbed the “Roaring Twenties” she began using the lawn as an extension of the White House state rooms and used them frequently for entertaining in her favorite format, the garden party.

First Lady Florence Harding welcomes a wounded World War I veteran as Charles Forbes, arms crossed, stands behind her.

First Lady Florence Harding welcomes a wounded World War I veteran as Charles Forbes, arms crossed, stands behind her.

She began a tradition of hosting an annual garden party for the disabled and wounded veterans in the wards of nearby Walter Reed Hospital.

She had tulip bulbs planted to give color to the greensward, and also had the trees filled with newly-crafted birdhouses.

In another time of war, Eleanor Roosevelt directed the planting of a victory garden on the South Lawn, as all American households were being encouraged to do in order to economize on food.

She was not known, however, for taking any direct role in the cultivation or harvesting of its bounty.

Jacqueline Kennedy also took an especial interest in the South Lawn, particularly after learning that it was suffering from the bane of millions of suburban families at the time – crabgrass.

At her direction, a plant to remove and then replant the entire green grass yardage of the South Lawn was undertaken.

Jacqueline Kennedy attending her premier Youth-to-Youth concert on the White House South Lawn, 1961. (JFKPL)

Jacqueline Kennedy attending her premier Youth-to-Youth concert on the White House South Lawn, 1961. (JFKPL)

Once completed, the South Lawn was put to use for a wide variety of performing arts shows, including a Student-to-Student series of concerts and a ballet performance.

A staging platform was used, created for the unique dimension of the South Lawn, with a clamshell-shaped back wall.

It was not, however, the first time the lawn was used for a cultural performance beyond the Marine Band concerts.

Nellie Taft. (LC)

Nellie Taft. (LC)

In 1910, Helen Taft hosted the only known performance of Shakespeare on the South Lawn, an event used to raise funds for the establishment of local playgrounds for children.

Two other unprecedented uses of the South Lawn were initiated by Lady Bird Johnson in the 1960s.

As part of her 1965 Festival of the Arts, Mrs. Johnson had guests enjoy an afternoon break from readings inside the mansion outside on the South Lawn; there, a contemporary American art exhibition was created.

Mrs. Johnson in an antique car arrives at her South Lawn country fair, 1968. (LBJL)

Mrs. Johnson in an antique car arrives at her South Lawn country fair, 1968. (LBJL)

In the final days of the summer of 1968, a time of turmoil and national conflict as well as that of a presidential election, Mrs. Johnson hosted what was characterized as an old-fashioned country fair, with game booths, cotton candy and popcorn carts, a Ferris wheel and antique car parade.

The guests were all of the White House staff workers and their spouses.

Pat Nixon also made unique use of the South Lawn.

She and the President hosted a special state dinner to honor returned American prisoners held captive by the North Vietnamese and released upon the end of the Vietnam War in 1973.

Pat Nixon painting a balloon during her Summer in the Parks event on the White House South Lawn. (RMNPL)

Pat Nixon painting a balloon during her Summer in the Parks event on the White House South Lawn. (RMNPL)

For the first time, a special temporary structure was built to house the formal dining tables and chairs usually used inside the White House to permit a larger number of guests to attend.

She also joined area children there for the inaugural event of a “Summers in the Park” program that hosted activities during the summer school break on National Park Service properties in the capital city region.

Among Mrs. Nixon’s most democratic legacies also involved the South Lawn. At her direction, she opened the grounds for the first public tours, held annually in the spring and fall.

The Nixons during the POW dinner held in a South Lawn pavilion. (RMNPL)

The Nixons during the POW dinner held in a South Lawn pavilion. (RMNPL)

The tradition has largely continued. Feeling that so many come to the capital city but, due to timing, were unable to see the White House, she initiated a new lighting system that kept the mansion and the South Lawn fountain illuminated so that they could be enjoyed in the dark of night.

More recent First Ladies each made unique use of the South Lawn. Betty Ford hosted the first children’s Halloween Party there.

Mrs. Carter with a Jazz Festival guest on the South Lawn.

Mrs. Carter with a Jazz Festival guest on the South Lawn.

Rosalynn Carter established the regular use of the South Lawn for a summer Congressional picnic, and one year hosted the first White House Jazz Festival there.

Peggy Fleming during the Carter holiday party on the South Lawn. (JCPL)

Peggy Fleming during the Carter holiday party on the South Lawn. (JCPL)

One winter, Mrs. Carter also created a winter wonderland holiday party for congressional families, with an ice ring where Olympic skater Peggy Fleming performed, a snowmaking machine with snowmen, and mugs of hot cider and chocolate made available.

Always celebrating her July 5th birthday on Independence Day, Nancy Reagan extended the personal festivities by reviving the White House July 4th Picnic, held for White House staff.

Nancy Reagan with husband and friends on the South Lawn, July 4th 1981. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan with husband and friends on the South Lawn, July 4th 1981. (RRPL)

After enjoying a birthday party with the President and their friends earlier in the day, she joined in with the staff South Lawn picnic, sitting on a blanket and listening to a concert of patriotic music.

The Rose Garden, just outside the West Wing, and what is now called the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, its counterpart on the east end, are technically part of the South Lawn.

Both areas were the point of special focus by previous First Ladies.

Ellen Wilson's Rose Garden in a rare color image of the era. (original source unknown)

Ellen Wilson’s Rose Garden in a rare color image of the era. (original source unknown)

Ellen Wilson undertook the landscaping of the first Rose Garden, which included statuary and a fountain. The modern Rose Garden, however, was created at Mrs. Kennedy’s direction by her friend, horticulturalist Rachel Mellon.

Theodore Roosevelt’s wife created what was called a “colonial garden” on the east side.

Later, it was formally landscaped during Lady Bird Johnson’s tenure, completing the vision begun by her predecessor and named for her officially as the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.

Hillary Clinton in the Sculpture Garden on the South Lawn. (WJCPL)

Hillary Clinton in the Sculpture Garden on the South Lawn. (WJCPL)

Hillary Clinton particularly enjoyed this part of the lawn and there created The Sculpture Garden, with a rotating exhibition of large, outdoor contemporary American sculptures.

Hillary Clinton expanded upon Pat Nixon’s use of the South Lawn as a staging area for large state dinners. She also hosted a unique musical concert by leading American performers there, with the station VH1, as part of its “Save the Music” initiative to retain musical education in public schools.

Certainly, however, no First Lady more consistently put to unique use the South Lawn than has Michelle Obama.

Mrs. Obama with students in her South Lawn vegetable garden. (WH)

Mrs. Obama with students in her South Lawn vegetable garden. (WH)

It was at the beginning of her “Let’s Move!” program, intended to improve the diet and awareness of food consumed by children that she began it by creating a White House vegetable garden there.

Throughout the course of each year, she has not merely sponsored but herself participated in the soil preparation, seed planting, cultivation and harvesting of a surprising large yield of freshly-grown vegetables, alongside groups of schoolchildren.

The First Lady exercising with children on the South Lawn. (WH)

The First Lady exercising with children on the South Lawn. (WH)

In many respects, the White House South Lawn has served as a familiar venue for the current First Lady.

The greensward provides her with a chance to not only address issues of importance to her involving nutrition and health, initiated by concern for the alarming rate of obesity among the nation’s youth, but also a platform for her to demonstrate what she encourages others to do.

As part of the exercise component of “Let’s Move!” the First Lady has also used the vast greensward as a staging area for physical movements with children, from jumping rope, to running, to even hosting the largest hula-hoop demonstration on record.

Here are some more views of the White House South Lawn over the course of the American Presidency’s history:

The first photograph showing the South Lawn of the White House, 1840's.

The first photograph showing the South Lawn of the White House, 1840’s.

A colorized engraving of the White House South Lawn from 1855, during the Pierce presidency.

A colorized engraving of the White House South Lawn from 1855, during the Pierce presidency.

The South Lawn with a new fountain, photographed in 1868.

The South Lawn with a new fountain, photographed in 1868.

Lou Hoover looks over crowds on the South Lawn, circa 1930. (LC)

Lou Hoover looks over crowds on the South Lawn, circa 1930. (LC)

President Kennedy addressing crowds from the clamshell stage on the South Lawn. (JFKPL)

President Kennedy addressing crowds from the clamshell stage on the South Lawn. (JFKPL)

John Kennedy, Jr. enjoying a Coca Cola on the South Lawn,1963. (JFKL)

John Kennedy, Jr. enjoying a Coca Cola on the South Lawn,1963. (JFKL)

Jacqueline Kennedy, the President and their friend Tony Bradlee at a play area on the South Lawn created by Mrs. Kennedy for her children and their friends. (JFKPL)

Jacqueline Kennedy, the President and their friend Tony Bradlee at a play area on the South Lawn created by Mrs. Kennedy for her children and their friends. (JFKPL)

Staging construction on the South Lawn during the Kennedy Administration. (JFKPL)

A ballet performance on the South Lawn during the Kennedy Administration. (JFKPL)

Country singer Buck Owens at the LBJ country fair on the South Lawn, 1968. (LBJPL)

Country singer Buck Owens at the LBJ country fair on the South Lawn, 1968. (LBJPL)

The large tented pavilion built on the South Lawn for the Nixon state dinner honoring POWs. (RMNPL)

The large tented pavilion built on the South Lawn for the Nixon state dinner honoring POWs. (RMNPL)

The Reagans at the 1983 annual White House Easter Egg Roll, by then a tradition over a century old. (RRPL)

The Reagans at the 1983 annual White House Easter Egg Roll, by then a tradition over a century old. (RRPL)

Betty Ford welcomes child guests for her 1974 Halloween Party on the South Lawn.  (GSRFPL)

Betty Ford welcomes child guests for her 1974 Halloween Party on the South Lawn. (GRFPL)

A Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn. (WH)

A Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn. (WH)

Cedric the Entertainer performs on the South Lawn of the White House, July 4, 2010. (WH)

Cedric the Entertainer performs on the South Lawn of the White House, July 4, 2010. (WH)

Another year's Congressional Picnic. (WH)

Another year’s Congressional Picnic. (WH)

An Oregon salmon bake demonstrated at a White House picnic. (WH)

An Oregon salmon bake demonstrated at a White House picnic. (WH)

A 2014 state dinner for the French President in a large staging tent on the South Lawn. (AP)

A 2014 state dinner for the French President in a large staging tent on the South Lawn. (AP)

A helicopter view of the South Lawn. (WH)

A helicopter view of the South Lawn. (WH)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Earthy First Lady: Lou Hoover Digs A Vegetable Garden

A decade before becoming First Lady, Lou Hoover took a hoe in hand and began cultivating vegetable gardens, instructing Girl Scouts to do the same. (HHPL)

A decade before becoming First Lady, Lou Hoover took a hoe in hand and began cultivating vegetable gardens, instructing Girl Scouts to do the same. (HHPL)

She is often overshadowed among 20th century First Ladies, coming along in the historical timeline between the highly popular Grace Coolidge who presided over the zesty Roaring Twenties, and Eleanor Roosevelt, the legendary humanitarian, but Lou Hoover was one of the nation’s most accomplished presidential spouses. She came to the White House with expertise in a number of divergent fields.

The main cabin of Camp Rapidan, designed by Lou Hoover as the first presidential retreat. (NPS)

The main cabin of Camp Rapidan, designed by Lou Hoover as the first presidential retreat. (NPS)

She was an amateur architect, helping to execute her vision of a modernistic home in northern California of cubist block forms and multi-leveled open-aired terraces, but also of a woodsy presidential retreat in the the cool Shenandoah mountain range of Virginia. She believed that architecture must always be crafted to blend into the natural, indigenous landscape.

Lou Hoover's Palo Alto, California home. (Wikipedia)

Lou Hoover’s Palo Alto, California home. (Wikipedia)

She had travelled the world, extensively learning about those places few Americans at the time even knew existed, and immersing herself with respect and curiosity in the cultures of foreign lands, including Egypt, China, India, New Zealand, Russia, Ceylon, Burma, and Japan. Her ease with language had her learning not only to speak but write Chinese and, with her husband, translate from Latin to English an essential text on metallurgy, first printed in the 1500s.

Long before she earned her college degree in geology, however, Lou Hoover was at home in the natural world.

Warren Henry fishing in the northern California mountains with his very young daughter Lou. (HHPL)

Warren Henry fishing in the northern California mountains with his very young daughter Lou. (HHPL)

As a companion to her father, she learned to fish, pitch a tent, find her way through the woods, identify edible and dangerous greens. Nothing was more glorious to her than sleeping out beneath the stars.

As she matured, Mrs. Hoover came to recognize how unusual it was for a woman to be so physically active and fit, let alone enjoy it as much as she did.

Yet both her physical stamina and mental strength were outcrops of the discipline and the gifts that came from known the earth as well as she did, and exploring it with respect.

Soon, she would strive to offer the same opportunities of knowing nature and deriving the same gifts from it to hundreds of thousand of young American women.

Lou Hoover brought all these sensibilities to the fore when, in 1917 she was recruited by Juliette Gordon Low to become a National Commissioner of the organization she had founded just five years earlier, The Girl Scouts.

Mrs. Hoover, second from right, with other leaders of the national Girl Scout organization. (gshistory.com)

Mrs. Hoover, second from right, with other leaders of the national Girl Scout organization. (gshistory.com)

Today, Mrs. Hoover is remembered as First Lady most strongly by her association with the Girl Scouts. During her four years in the White House, although she held the title of the organization’s “honorary ” president, she raised a half-million dollars to help restructure and standardize the organization, increase membership, addressed its annual convention, delivered radio speeches to the troops, and edited field guides and instructional manuals.

It was, however, her initial experience with The Girl Scouts, which coincided with U.S. entry into the European conflict then known as “The Great War” that forged her into a national leader.

Living in London at the time World War I first began, she had first-hand knowledge of the sudden and severe food shortage crisis, particularly in Belgium. Farming regions that had provided produce had suddenly become battlefield and regular good delivery routs were cut off by fighting. Lou Hoover rose to the occasion, leading a successful effort to provide emergency food supplies to starving Belgians.

A World War I food conservation poster. (USFDA)

A World War I food conservation poster. (USFDA)

Relocating to Washington, D.C. from her home in northern California when her husband Herbert Hoover was made the U.S. Food Administrator, Mrs. Hoover believed Girl Scouts could respond to the need for food conservation.

This was not only a matter of adhering to rationing, consuming only certain foods on certain days, and using sugar, dairy and meat substitutes, but also growing one’s own vegetables and fruits.

Mrs. Hoover in the field. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Mrs. Hoover in the field. (carlanthonyonline.com)

And so, in her new job with the Girl Scouts, Lou Hoover undertook an effort not to merely print guidelines or give lectures, but to demonstrate with her own hands how to create wartime gardens.

Working with troops of local Washington Girl Scouts in one of the organization’s local properties, she taught them how to prepare soil for produce planting, cultivate and harvest produce and, importantly, to re-soil vegetable the garden plots. While they were making the field trip, she also taught them how to pitch a tent and live outdoors.

While many photographs would show Lou Hoover dressed in the leadership uniforms of the Girl Scouts, with its plain, dark-green suit and brimmed hats, these rarely seen images show her in the real life effort of toil and soil, wearing an old, brimmed men’s hat, a long, protective dress.

As she hoes the soil or inspects a tin cup of just the right amount of water necessary for growing plants, Mrs. Hoover’s hair is astray but through it all, she smiles, enjoying every moment.

Lou Hoover approves of just the right amount of water a young scout shows her. (LC)

A troop of Girl Scouts hoe the soil, preparing it for planting, as directed by Lou Hoover. (LC)

Lou Hoover watches that the young scout pours water at just the right place on a tomato plant's roots. (LC)

Lou Hoover watches that the young scout pours water at just the right place on a tomato plant’s roots. (LC)

The future First Lady sets up a pup tent for sleeping under the stars. (LC)

The future First Lady sets up a pup tent for sleeping under the stars. (LC)

Mrs. Hoover instructs Girl Scouts on just the right way to harvest carrots from the soil.(LC)

Mrs. Hoover instructs Girl Scouts on just the right way to harvest carrots from the soil.(LC)

After the war, during the eight years that Herbert Hoover served as Secretary of Commerce during the Harding and Coolidge Administrations, Lou Hoover continued to work for The Girl Scouts, serving as its vice president,  president and national board of directors chair.

Lou Hoover, in her role as Girl Scout president, with First Lady Grace Coolidge visiting the "Little House." (LC)

Lou Hoover, in her role as Girl Scout president, with First Lady Grace Coolidge visiting the “Little House.” (LC)

She helped to establish its “Little House” in the capital city, a demonstration home where scouts were taught to cook, bake, clean but also budget, economize and organize their time.

She also enlisted the support of First Ladies Florence Harding and Grace Coolidge, having them not only serve as honorary presidents but coming to visit the Little House.

Mrs. Harding with Girl Scouts. (LC)

Mrs. Harding with Girl Scouts. (LC)

The lessons she learned and taught during World War I as a Girl Scouts leader impressed upon Mrs. Hoover the belief that the troops of young women would make them natural community activists as they matured, with the hope they would extend their training to civic projects.

When she became First Lady, she had every hope that the troops would be a strong enough force during the Great Depression to meet the sudden needs of the nation’s unemployed, homeless and hungry but the problem was too vast to be solved this way.

Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform after the White House (HHPL)

Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform after the White House (HHPL)

Two years after leaving the White House, Mrs. Hoover served as a member on The Girl Scouts’ National Board of Directors, while also working as its President for a second time, for a two-year term. As a former First Lady, Mrs. Hoover held the title of Girl Scouts Honorary Vice President until her death in 1944.

Former First Lady Lou Hoover helped launch what became the legendary annual Girl Scout Cookies sales. (The Newburg Graphic)

Former First Lady Lou Hoover helped launch what became the legendary annual Girl Scout Cookies sales. (The Newburg Graphic)

It was during her last period of work with the organization that Lou Hoover helped promote what became its most familiar symbol.

Envisioning the expansion of an annual sale among hundreds of individual troops of  a simple box of baked treated first sold in 1936 by a Philadelphia troop, the former First Lady eagerly put on her familiar uniform and posed for press photographs holding Girl Scout cookies.

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Malia Obama touring Columbia University, apparently one of the potential colleges she may attend in the fall of 2016, (Washington Post)

Malia Obama touring Columbia University, apparently one of the potential colleges she may attend in the fall of 2016, (Washington Post)

 This NFLL Blog is adapted from a written response to a recent media inquiry.

There have been relatively few presidential children who have gone from the teen years to young adults, moving from the White House and into a dormitory room at college, but Malia Obama is one. Scheduled to begin her freshman year of college in September of 2016,  she is currently touring different university campuses in search of just the right place for her.

The Bush twins. (Getty)

The Bush twins. (Getty)

The most recent presidential children who were enrolled in college during their father’s presidency were the twin daughters of George W. and Laura Bush, Jenna and Barbara Bush.

The former was enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin and the latter at Yale University, but both missed the media scrutiny that Malia Obama in now undergoing: the Bush twins began their college years two months before their father was elected president in 2000.

Chelsea Clinton, who was living in the White House when she first visited and ultimately decided on attending Stanford University in Palo Alto, California,  offers more of a precedent.

Chelsea Clinton at her Stanford University orientation with her parents. (Clinton Presidential Library)

Chelsea Clinton at her Stanford University orientation with her parents. (Clinton Presidential Library)

There was much coverage, including some White House photos, showing her attending an orientation and moving into her dorm room, assisted by her parents. There was little coverage, however, of her going through the process of choosing the right college for her.

In recent years, presidential children have found it perhaps easier to continue living in the White House and attending a local institution of higher education.

Jeff Carter, already married at the time he moved into the White House for a brief period at the start of his father’s presidency, rather quietly decided to attend graduate school at nearby George Washington University.

Margaret Truman also went to college there, the campus close enough to walk home. Lynda Bird Johnson, originally a student at the University of Texas at Austin, transferred to the same college.

Margaret Truman at G.W.U. (Getty)

Margaret Truman at G.W.U. (Getty)

Presidential son-in-law David Eisenhower went to George Washington University Law School, but although he and his wife Julie Nixon kept a suite at the White HouseIn the 19th century, when her father was president, they had their own private apartment in Bethesda, Maryland. Andrew Johnson, Jr. decided to remain closer to his family and attended Georgetown University

At the time his father became President, Jack Ford was already at student at Utah State University, but he came home to live with his parents in the White House to work on his father’s 1976 presidential campaign.

In contrast was his brother Steve Ford, who graduated from high school two months before their father became President upon the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Jack Ford campaigning for his dad, 1976. (Ford Library)

Jack Ford campaigning for his dad, 1976. (Ford Library)

A month after that he left the White House (where he’d only lived briefly) and headed to Utah, intending to join his brother at the state university there.

Going back into the 19th century, Andrew Johnson, Jr. decided to remain closer to his family and attended Georgetown University.

Susan Ford, who hosted her June 1975 high school prom in the White House, seemed to have decided before graduation that she wanted to remain close to her parents and thus enrolled in the fall of 1975 at the girl’s school Mount Vernon College (now part of the George Washington University), in suburban Washington, a short commute to the White House. She later transferred to the University of Kansas.

Helene Taft. (LC)

Helene Taft. (LC)

Previous to 1945, the only First Daughters who attended college were already enrolled at the time their fathers became President – Helene Taft at Bryne Mawr in Pennsylvania and Jesse Wilson at Goucher College in Maryland. In the case of Helene Taft, she took a leave of absence in 1909 to serve as a substitute White House hostess for her father, following the sudden but mild stroke of her mother.

First Sons who began college at the time of their father’s incumbencies were all “legacy” students, their chance of acceptance being improved by the fact that their fathers had also gone there. Thus, they made no college search.

FDR, Jr. on the Harvard rowing team. (Boston Public Library)

FDR, Jr. on the Harvard rowing team. (Boston Public Library)

These included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. enrolled at Harvard University in 1933 and his brother John who began there two years later, and the sons of Theodore Roosevelt, “Teddy, Jr,” who started there in 1905 and Kermit in 1908.

In 1924, John Coolidge enrolled at Amherst College, his father’s alma mater.

John Coolidge, graduating from Amherst College shared a dorm room with his Secret Service agent. (Boston Public Library)

John Coolidge, graduating from Amherst College shared a dorm room with his Secret Service agent. (Boston Public Library)

Coolidge had a difficult time, initially, becoming the first Presidential Child to have to share a college dorm room with a Secret Service agent.

In the 19th century, there were no First Daughters who attended college. Among the First Sons who went to college at the time of their father’s incumbencies, John Adams II (son of John Quincy Adams) followed family tradition and went to Harvard University.

Alan Arthur. (findagrave.com)Alan Arthur was already enrolled at Princeton University when he father assumed the presidency in 1881 upon the assassination death of President Garfield.

Alan Arthur was known for making unannounced trips down to Washington from college, surprising his father and the White House staff by often arriving in the wee hours of the morning.

Robert Lincoln. (Harvard University)

Robert Lincoln. (Harvard University)

Robert Lincoln was determined to attend Harvard University but failed the entrance exam when he first applied in 1859. He spent a year of further study at Phillips Exeter Academy and gained entrance to Harvard during his father’s presidency – there is no evidence that any special consideration was given to him as the President’s son. He graduated in 1864.

The two eldest sons of James A. Garfield, Harry Garfield and James “Jim” Garfield both gained entrance to Williams College during their father’s initial months as President, and enrolled in the fall of 1881 just weeks after their father died, after lingering two months following his being shot.

Webb Hayes was enrolled at Cornell University at the time his father ran for President in 1876, but took a leave of absence to become an aide to him. He did not return to college but rather lived in the White House and continued to work as his father’s aide.

The two eldest Hayes sons lived at the White House with their parents, one delaying entrance into Cornell University, the other delaying law school. (Hayes Presidential Center)

The two eldest Hayes sons lived at the White House with their parents, one delaying entrance into Cornell University, the other delaying law school. (Hayes Presidential Center)

His brother Birchard had graduated from Cornell University in 1874, two years before his father’s presidency began. He did, however, leave the White House to pursue a law degree at Harvard, graduating three months after his father’s presidency ended.

Why, one wonders, did so many presidential children decide to delay, take a leave of absence, or relocate from where they had chosen to pursue a higher education and instead remain or move closer to and live the most famous and watched home in the country, especially at an age when young adults are often eager to live independently for the first time, away from their parents?

Perhaps the story of one presidential child can offer a clue.

Julie Nixon was a recently-married Smith College student at the time her father became President.

Julie Nixon at Smith College a year before her father was elected President, with her fiancé David Eisenhower. (Getty(

Julie Nixon at Smith College a year before her father was elected President, with her fiancé David Eisenhower. (Getty(

With the campus anti-war movement especially strong in Massachusetts schools, her father decided not to deliver the commencement address he was invited to give and to also not attend her graduation, fearing his presence would distract from the importance of the day to the other students, especially since anti-war protestors seeking to make their point with President Nixon planned to picket the event.

It was a devastating turn of events for Pat Nixon, who had come up from poverty to put herself through college and she’d wanted to see both of her daughters complete their higher education and participate in the symbolic conclusion of it with a graduation ceremony. Instead, Julie Nixon had a “mock” graduation with a family celebration at Camp David.

Except for that instance, however, there are no known examples of any First Ladies who regretted their children deciding to continue living at home with the family, in the White House.

 

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First Ladies Wearing Pants

Former First Ladies Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter all wearing pants at the George W. Bush Presidential Library dedication.

Former First Ladies Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter all wearing pants at the George W. Bush Presidential Library dedication.

A recent inquiry to the library asked the question of whether Hillary Clinton had always made public appearances in pants rather than dresses and, further, just when it was that First Ladies started wearing pants.

Hillary Clinton at the recent Democratic debate. (Fortune)

Hillary Clinton at the recent Democratic debate. (Fortune)

Much is revealed about gender roles and evolving moral code in the history of clothing.

With the examples of a President and First Lady long held aloft as a examples for the nation to follow, what they wore often took on greater significance as a symbol not just of the changing taste of the nation but also the role of men and women.

Long before the presidency’s inception or even the founding of the United States, adults knew that women wore undergarments that resembled pants in a large, loose shape, beneath even petticoats.

However, it was not socially acceptable for women to appear in anything but clothing that reached the floor and concealed their legs.

Bloomer. (National Park Service)

Bloomer. (NPS

In some cases, women could be arrested for being seen in the “indecent” balloonish undergarment in public.

Parallel to the mid-19th century women’s suffrage movement, however, came the radical idea that women should be allowed to wear shorter shirts that permitted their bloomer pants to be seen.

In fact, it was an advocate of a woman’s right to vote, Amelia Bloomer, who first put forth this notion and had the pants named for her, “the bloomers.”

Walker. (Wikipedia)

Walker. (Wikipedia)

By the Gilded Age, as the push for equality became more a more pressing social issue in Washington by those seeking to influence legislators, a woman physician by the name of Mary Walker boldly began dressing as a man in pants and a top hat, to emphasis her belief that women had the right to vote.

Lucy Hayes photographed in long johns, beside the President. (Hayes Center)

Lucy Hayes photographed in long johns, beside the President. (Hayes Center)

While 19th century First Ladies were already wearing pants in the form of bloomers or more skin-tight cotton pants for warmth beneath their dresses, it was only the practicality of a situation that led to a November 7, 1880 photograph being taken which showed the incumbent First Lady Lucy Hayes in what appears to be pants.

She had posed with the President and an entourage that was touring the west and had just submerged into a Virginia City, Nevada silver mine. Thus it was the condition of preventing herself from tripping on a long dress as she descended into the dark mine that the image, which was not publicly released at the time, was snapped.

Florence Harding in the seaplane. (airspacemag.com)

Florence Harding in the seaplane. (airspacemag.com)

It was also the practical need for safety that led to the second First Lady being photographed in “pants,” even though Florence Harding was not yet technically the wife of a president but a president-elect.

During a post-eletion December 1920 trip to Panama with her husband, Mrs. Harding gamely accepted the offer of an air flight in a seaplane. Certain angles of the newspaper photographs showing her gear up in helmet and goggles also revealed that she was wearing a protective duster with pants, covering her dress, allowing her to climb into the plane.

Despite the more liberated women’s clothing of the 1920s, there was still a degree of decorum expected of how First Ladies dressed in public. The conundrum was what sphere of their activities counted as “private” and what was “public,” since even when they weren’t making official appearances but were window-shopping or exercising out among others they could now be easily photographed.

Mrs. Hoover in riding pants. (pinterest)

Mrs. Hoover in riding pants. (National First Ladies Library)

It was concern for that this might happen that President Coolidge, upon learning that his wife was about to leave and take her first horse-riding lessons while dressed in “culotte” pants, refused to permit her to appear this way in public.

Her immediate successor Lou Hoover, however, had long been riding horses and wasn’t going to stop just because she was First Lady. On one occasion, she was recognized by a press reporter who captured her riding towards Rock Creek Park, not riding sidesaddle in a dress but on a western saddle and wearing women’s riding jodhpurs.

Mrs. Hoover wore her riding pants in private. (Hoover Library)

Mrs. Hoover in riding pants in private. (Hoover Library)

While the private photographs taken by friends and family of the Hoovers during a weekend visit to the presidential retreat Camp Rapidan in Virginia were not seen for long decades after the fact, at least one shows the First Lady relaxing in her riding pants in the privacy of trusted friends.

Eleanor Roosevelt, known for shattering precedent in many spheres of the First Lady role, also loved riding horses regularly in the early morning and her famous informality allowed her to comfortably continue wearing her jodhpurs around the White House upon her return.

Eleanor Roosevelt in her pants at the 1933 Easter Egg Roll. (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt in her pants at the 1933 Easter Egg Roll. (FDRL)

One year, without time to change before she was due to preside over the annual Easter Egg Roll, she just showed up in her riding pants.

Mrs. Roosevelt was not in the least bit embarrassed about being seen by thousands of people that day wearing pants.

Knowing that the general public would also see this unconventional glimpse of their new First Lady once photographs her walking the grounds were published, she decided to go one better.

Eleanor Roosevelt posing her pants. (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt posing her pants. (FDRL)

She formally posed wearing them on the South Portico.

Like Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt before her, Jackie Kennedy was an enthusiastic horsewoman and was comfortable wearing her jodhpurs around the White House.

She, however, represented a younger generation that had been comfortable wearing pants in public as teenagers during World War II.

Consequently, she made headlines during the 1960 presidential campaign not so much for being photographed in tight pants and a sweater while walking with her husband at his family’s Cape Cod estate, on her way down a dock to their sailboat.

Jackie Kennedy in pink pants. (original source unknown)

Jackie Kennedy in pink pants. (original source unknown)

It was the fact that her sweater was orange and her pants were pink that the New York Times correctly predicted that this was the first hint that the public might be in for a new kind of First Lady.

Jackie Kennedy in Europe. (original source unknown)

Jackie Kennedy in Europe. (original source unknown)

On her many vacations, winter, spring, summer and fall, Mrs. Kennedy would invariably be snapped wearing informal pants.

During her 1962 vacation in Italy, for example, she was seen sporting a new European trend known as “palazzo pants” and became associated with them since the creator of these was among her circle at the time.

It was only at private, informal gatherings at the White House, however, that Mrs. Kennedy appeared in anything resembling pants, in this case a wide-legged sort that gave the appearance of a dress.

Jackie Kennedy in her wide pants. (JFKL)

Jackie Kennedy in her wide pants. (JFKL)

Otherwise she, like all her predecessors appeared in formal gowns at state dinners and other official social events.

It was at the height of the Women’s Movement that the first First Lady truly embraced the idea of wearing pants and felt comfortable enough to pose in them.

Pat Nixon posed for a fashion photo spread in 1972 becoming the first First Lady to wear pants in a public forum. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Pat Nixon was the first to wear pants in a public forum. carlanthonyonline.com

In February of 1972, Pat Nixon donned several outfits by leading American clothing designers for a color photo fashion spread, deciding to chose two women’s pantsuits to model, one in pink and another in black.

By then, women wearing pants was becoming more acceptable, if not entirely  mainstreamed among most demographics of the United States. While women would soon begin to rise within professional life, controversy remained about whether it was appropriate for them to appear in the office in pants.

Betty Ford in pants, 1977. (GRFL)

Betty Ford in pants, 1977. (GRFL)

Even the First Lady considered to be a leader of the 1970s Women’s Movement wore pants in the White House only in private.

It was for a famous image taken on her last day as First Lady that Betty Ford, a former professional dancer, posed with her shoes off atop the Cabinet table – wearing pants.

Nancy Reagan's Paris knickers. (original source unknown)

Nancy Reagan’s knickers. (source unknown)

Nancy Reagan might be credited with wearing a type of pants in public – but only on one occasion and with much criticism.

At a formal dinner in Paris with foreign leaders, she appeared in a black dress with black knicker pants beneath them.

Nancy Reagan at the ranch. (RRL)

Nancy Reagan at the ranch. (RRL)

While she continued to appear in formal gowns at official functions, by the 1980s she too was entirely comfortable being seen in public while at the Reagan ranch near Santa Barbara, California.

The more rugged and relaxed lifestyle at this presidential retreat made pants the only appropriate clothing for the First Lady to wear.

Barbara Bush pushed the idea of First Ladies being just fine in pants around the White House a slight step forward.

Mrs, Bush. (GBPL)

Mrs, Bush. (GBPL)

Enjoying the chance to walk her dogs around the vast South Lawn and the many areas around it that the public could not glimpse from outside the gate, she usually put on some informal white slacks.

Secretary Clinton. (Getty)

Secretary Clinton. (Getty)

Certainly, pants are more closely associated with Hillary Clinton than any other First Lady. In the public eye for an unprecedented quarter-century now, it may seem hard not to imagine her in them.

However memory may lead to the false impression that she had always worn her famous multi-colored pants suits since entering the White House.

It was not until her last year there, as she was conducting her campaign for the United States Senate at the end of 1999 and through all of 2000 that it came to be her signature look.

Clinton portrait. (WHHA)

Clinton portrait. (WHHA)

In fact, this first First Lady to serve in both elected and appointed federal political positions is closely is she associated with a mode of appearance that is her genuine personal preference that she even posed for her official White House portrait in pants.

Laura Bush. (GWBL)

Laura Bush. (GWBL)

Unlike Hillary Clinton, the first First Lady of the 21st century Laura Bush began appearing publicly in pants from practically her first months in the position and all through the eight years of her husband’s Administration.

Observers noted that even when she made a visit to Saudi Arabia, where there was a strict gender code enforced that kept its women citizens in the most strictly modest clothing, the American First Lady still appeared in her pants.

Mrs. Bush in Saudi Arabia. (Getty)

Mrs. Bush in Saudi Arabia. (Getty)

While they may have given more distinct form, the garb paradoxically kept from exposing what would have been bare legs had she worn dresses.

Mrs. Obama. (AP)

Mrs. Obama. (AP)

Ushering in her tenure of often bold and expressive clothing as First Lady, Michelle Obama has marked her wardrobe with the widest variety of styles, much of which included pants.

By the 2010s any societal taboo used to judge women for wearing pants was considered greatly outdated and so neither she nor Mrs. Bush were ever taken to task for being seen publicly in them during daytime and even some evening events and ceremonies.

Mrs. Obama at the start of a mountain vacation. (Getty)

Mrs. Obama starts a mountain vacation. (Getty)

The one incident involving Mrs. Obama wearing pants that did cause some critical review was when she was snapped getting off of Air Force One while dressed in short pants.

Of course, it was entirely appropriate – she was arriving to for a summer vacation in the western mountains and proceed immediately from the airport to a strenuous hike.

The incident struck a familiar echo of when Jackie Kennedy was criticized for allowing herself to be seen wearing a bathing suit – as she was entering the water for a swim.

Jackie Kennedy in her bathing suit. (People)

Jackie Kennedy in her bathing suit. (People)

 

 

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First Ladies Who Held Public Office

Former First Lady Hillary Clinton in her role as the U.S. Secretary of States, 2009 to 2013.

Former First Lady Hillary Clinton in her role as the U.S. Secretary of States, 2009 to 2013.

In light of former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s current, second campaign for her party’s nomination as president, a recent public inquiry asked just how many First Ladies have held any level of public office, either elective or appointive, and how many had considered doing so.

As First Lady, Hillary Clinton campaigned for and won a U.S. Senate seat. (Getty)

As First Lady, Hillary Clinton campaigned for and won a U.S. Senate seat. (Getty)

The number is relatively few.

Certainly Clinton is the most famous to the public. In fact, she is the only one to have served at any level in either  and elected or appointed position.

She successfully won the office of United States Senator from the state of New York in 2000 and was re-elected in 2006, serving until January of 2009 when she was appointed Secretary of State.

Senator Clinton attended George W. Bush's 2008 State of the Union Address. (Getty)

Senator Clinton attended George W. Bush’s 2008 State of the Union Address. (Getty)

Before her, Eleanor Roosevelt served in three consecutive appointed positions.

As First Lady, before and during World War II, Mrs. Roosevelt had called for the United States to support the concept of a United Nations and to then join it.

President Truman and Mrs. Roosevelt. (ebay)

President Truman and Mrs. Roosevelt. (ebay)

Upon the death of her husband while he was serving in his fourth term as President, she believed , as she told a reporter “the story is over” when it came to her activism as First Lady in speaking out on humanitarian issues involving both domestic and international life.

Eleanor Roosevelt as a U.S. delegate to the newly-formed United Nations. (Getty)

Eleanor Roosevelt as a U.S. delegate to the newly-formed United Nations. (Getty)

With Vice President Harry Truman’s assumption of the presidency, however, he named her as United States Delegate to the newly-formed United Nations General Assembly. Her term ran from the last day of 1946 until the last day of 1952.

She was almost immediately then made Chairman of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights, a position which led her to draft the famous Declaration of Human Rights, and was simultaneously a United States Representative of that Commission.

With JFK, Eleanor Roosevelt as co-chair of the President's Commission on the Status of Women. (FDZRL)

With JFK, Eleanor Roosevelt as co-chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. (FDZRL)

During the eight years of the Eisenhower Administration, Mrs. Roosevelt remained active in the United States through its private foundation.

With the 1960 election of Democratic President John F. Kennedy, the former First Lady again was called to public service, appointed by him as Chairwoman of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Human Rights. She served in that capacity unit her death in November of 1962.

Lady Bird Johnson with President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the White House. (JCPL)

Lady Bird Johnson with President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the White House. (JCPL)

As a former First Lady, the widow of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson served in three appointed capacities on federal commissions.

She was named in 1975 by President Gerald R. Ford to serve as co-chair of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration’s Advisory Council, requiring her to participate in meetings held in the nation’s capital, leading up to the national celebrations held on the two hundredth anniversary of the nation’s founding.

In 1977, Lady Bird Johnson accepted the position of co-chair of the Commission on White House Fellowships, appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

Mrs. Johnson accepts an award from Rosalynn Carter. (JCPL)

Mrs. Johnson accepts an award from Rosalynn Carter. (JCPL)

In 1969, Mrs. Johnson had also accepted membership on the National Park Service’s Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments. In 1999, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt said, “Mrs. Johnson has been a ‘shadow’ Secretary of the Interior’ for much of her life.”

At one point, President Richard Nixon had circulated a memo with the idea of naming Mrs. Johnson as a U.S. Ambassador to a foreign country, but the offer did not materialize.

Governor Florence Harding? (LC)

Governor Florence Harding? (LC)

The widows of three other presidents of the 20th century were also encouraged to seek elective political office.

In 1924, the highly political Florence Harding gave serious consideration to the urgings by fellow Ohio Republicans that she seek the office of Governor of Ohio, but her precarious health wisely prevented her from moving forward.

Former First Lady Edith Wilson and Jesse Jones at the 1928 Houston Democratic National Convention.

Former First Lady Edith Wilson and Jesse Jones at the 1928 Houston Democratic National Convention.

Among her circle of powerful Democratic Party supporters who escorted her to the 1928 Democratic National Convention in Houston, Texas, the widow of President Woodrow Wilson, who had died four years earlier, had begun mentioning her to reporters and others who cherished the political principals of the late president as a potential vice presidential candidate.

Edith Wilson refused to seriously entertain the idea, given that her own natural inclinations were not political and that she was not fond of that year’s nominee, New York Governor Al Smith, let alone the responsibility of serving on the national ticket with him.

A magazine gave a blend of serious and tongue-in-cheek endorsement to the idea that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis should seek the U.S. Senate seat in 1976.

One magazine gave a blend of serious and tongue-in-cheek endorsement to the idea that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis should seek the U.S. Senate seat in 1976.

In 1976, as the election for the United States Senate seat from the state of New York approached, newspaper publisher Dorothy Schiff among a few other friends briefly circulated in newspapers the possibility that former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a longtime resident of New York City and by then widowed a second time, would serve the state well by seeking the Democratic nomination for that position.

Senator Jackie Onassis? (W Magazine)

Senator Jackie Onassis? (W Magazine)

Flattered, and even briefly tantalized by the possibility of assuming the federal office once held by her late brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy, and also becoming a colleague of her brother-in-law Teddy Kennedy, then serving as Massachusetts’ U.S. Senator, she finally joked, “Id win of course!” before asserting how satisfied she finally was in having begun her career as a book publishing editor.

It was not the first time the widow of President Kennedy had been considered for a political position.

Jackie & LBJ, 1963. (JFKL)

Jackie & LBJ, 1963. (JFKL)

President Lyndon B. Johnson had urged her to consider accepting either the ambassadorship to Mexico or France shortly after he succeeded to office upon her husband’s assassination, but she felt her responsibility to her two young children would prevent her from carrying out the duties required of such a post.

One must search back to the even before the beginning of the presidency to find another example and it is one involving not a former First Lady – but a future one, in a time predating the actual creation of the United States.

Abigail Adams (far right) was appointed to a committee of three women including Hannah Winthrop (left) and Mercy Warren (center). (Massachusetts Historical Society and Wikipedia)

Abigail Adams (far right) was appointed to a committee of three women including Hannah Winthrop (left) and Mercy Warren (center). (Massachusetts Historical Society and Wikipedia)

In 1775, along with the highly-educated and outspoken Mercy Otis Warren of Massachusetts and Hannah Winthrop, the wife of the governor of the Massachusetts colony, Abigail Adams, described as being a “farmeress,” was appointed by the colony’s General Court to question several “Tory” women loyal to the British crown for suspicion of their activities undermining the fight for independence.

Details about what this entailed and for how long they conducted this work is vague and barely chronicled, but there is documentation in the way of her husband’s response upon hearing the news.

John and Abigail Adams in portraits from the American Revolutionary era. (thepublicdiscourse.com)

John and Abigail Adams in portraits from the American Revolutionary era. (thepublicdiscourse.com)

At the time John Adams was then in Philadelphia, serving on the Second Continental Congress committee which would draft the Declaration of Independence a year later. He wrote to Abigail Adams with pride:

“…you are now a politician and now elected to any important office, that of judgess of the Tory ladies, which will give you, naturally, an influence with your sex…”

Mrs. Adams appreciated the sentiment.

A bronze bust depiction of Abigail Adams, whose legacy went beyond First Lady to include a women's equality advocate. (historycompany)Still, if as her husband put it, she “naturally” had derivative political influence due to who she was married to,  she also wanted it to be legally ensured for all women and not just a privileged few:

“I desire you wold remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors!….If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

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Popular Frances Cleveland was even depicted on the cover of the Democratic National Convention program in 1888. (pinterest)

Popular Frances Cleveland was even depicted on the cover of the Democratic National Convention program in 1888. (pinterest)

This is the first in a series of NFLL Blog articles adapted from a response to a September 2015 media inquiry about the history of those who had different types of influence on the presidential campaigns of their spouses. The article series focuses only on those who became First Ladies; of course, the larger perspective would also include those married to presidential candidates, be they in primaries or general elections, who did not win. This is an overview summary; each different role played by First Ladies during their husbands’ presidential campaigns are far richer in individual detail.
History proves that the spouses of presidential candidates can and have, at crucial turning points, had some important, even at times crucial influence on the success of presidential campaigns. What type of influence they have had varied widely, shaped by factors including the evolving electoral process of American presidential campaigns, the increasing role women took in national political life, and the wider platforms offered by emerging technologies. Regardless of the periods in which they lived, however, there has always been a duality of public and private roles exercised by those First Ladies who had substantive influence on their husbands’ presidential candidacies. More often than not, there is a considerable different between what they did covertly and overtly.
Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Long before women were granted the vote in 1920 by constitutional amendment, even in a time during American history when there were legal obstacles involving their rights of property ownership, inheritance and divorce, the spouses of men striving for the most powerful positions in the government found that their marriage offered them a venue for becoming involved, however subversively, in the political process.

Louisa Adams, far right, hosting one of her political soirees, ostensibly to honor her husband's 1824 opponent for the presidency, Andrew Jackson, seen escorting his wife Rachel at left.

Louisa Adams, far right, hosting one of her political soirees, ostensibly to honor her husband’s 1824 opponent for the presidency, Andrew Jackson, seen escorting his wife Rachel at left.

This was especially true of those with husbands seeking the presidency.

In the days of the early Republic, when the electors determining the final results of a presidential election were the members of U.S. Congress, two candidates’ spouses Dolley Madison used her legendary interpersonal skills as a hostess to curry favor with individual members of the Senate and House to incline them in support of husband’s initial presidential candidacy in 1808. His opponent DeWitt Clinton later declared that he had been defeated largely by “Mrs. Madison.”
Louisa Adams famously took this social politicking one step further. At the end of 1823,  she held one of her famously crowded receptions to honor of General Andrew Jackson, ostensibly to commemorate his victory at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Jackson attended with his wife Rachel. Of course, it was seen as a deft move of strategic flattery. Jackson was known to be intending to run against her husband months later, during the presidential election of 1824.
The Springfield, Illinois home of Abraham Lincoln during a campaign event. Mary Lincoln has been identified as sitting in the upper left window. (LC)

The Springfield, Illinois home of Abraham Lincoln during a campaign event. Mary Lincoln has been identified as sitting in the upper left window. (LC)

In the mid-19th century, Mary Todd Lincoln, who had grown up in an especially political family with strong alliances to Kentucky Whig Party figures like Henry Clay and was herself seasoned in what was involved in national political elections, made no apologies for what reporters at the time detected was her role as a campaign adviser to her husband.

Upon hearing of his victory in 1860, Lincoln famously yelled out to her, “We are elected!”
Still, when a grandstand was constructed in front of the Lincoln home in Springfield, Illinois and crowds gathered in front of it to hear the candidate speak, the highly political Mrs. Lincoln was seen only inside the house, looking out and listening from an upper-floor window.
Julia Grant.

Julia Grant.

Julia Grant, from a powerful Missouri family with strong business affiliations to regional political figures, has been similarly credited with serving as an adviser to her husband and even encouraging others to propose her husband as a presidential candidate despite his professional experience being limited to the military rather than any elective or other political office.

By the late 19th century, as the technology of photography and printing rapidly advanced along the same timeline as the suffrage movement, there was a concerted effort to use wives on campaign paraphernalia to suggest that presidential candidates had a virtuous domestic life.
Lucretia Garfield is the first known candidate’s spouse to appear on a campaign poster, in the 1880 election.
An 1888 campaign poster placed Frances Cleveland at center and above her husband and his running mate.

An 1888 campaign poster placed Frances Cleveland at center and above her husband and his running mate.

When President Grover Cleveland was running for a second term, his White House bride, the 23-year old Frances Cleveland was exploited against his wishes by supporters who used her image on campaign posters. Young, physically attractive and graceful, she was a celebrity in her own right – but even her popularity failed to win his re-election.

In 1896, William McKinley made expert use of his wife’s disabilities for a variety of explanations that were covertly political in nature.
William and Ida McKinley seated on their front porch during the 1896 campaign.

William and Ida McKinley seated on their front porch during the 1896 campaign.

For example, it was suggested that he decided not to go out into the country and deliver speeches from the back of a campaign train because he wanted to be at home so he could care for his wife. In fact, he knew he could never compete with the eloquent and inspiring speeches of his opponent, Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan.

Without having to state his support or opposition to women’s suffrage, he invited both men and women supporters who both supported and opposed the growing issue to come into their home and be received by his wife.
Despite this, along with the rising movement that would finally grant women the right to vote, the wives of presidential candidates still limited themselves in the public realm during campaigns.
The front porch of Theodore Roosevelt's home, where his wife would not publicly appear. (oldlongisland.com)

The front porch of Theodore Roosevelt’s home, where his wife would not publicly appear. (oldlongisland.com)

Ida McKinley’s public appearance before large delegations of voters who came to hear her husband speak violated no societal expectation of the old adage that “a women’s place is in the home,” because the events took place at their residence.

The shift, of course, was subtle, for while she might have technically remained on the property, she had come out to appear on the front-porch.
Still, it was a slow evolution.
Eight years later, when Theodore Roosevelt came out on his front porch to formally accept his party’s nomination in 1904, his wife Edith Roosevelt insisted on listening to the proceedings from behind a screen that hid her, inside the house with the window open.

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What Might Melania Trump be like as First Lady?

 

Melania Knauss Trump. (www.zwallpix.com)

Melania Knauss Trump. (www.zwallpix.com)

With the great media attention focused on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has also come numerous media requests for thoughts on his wife Melania Knauss Trump as a potential First Lady. While there is no way of predicting just how a presidential spouse might interpret the role they inherit by marriage, some of Mrs. Trump’s biographical information can be placed into a larger, historical context.

Louisa Adams. (Masachusetts Historical Society)

Louisa Adams. (Masachusetts Historical Society)

As a native of Slovenia in the former nation of Yugoslavia, Melania Knauss Trump would be only the second First Lady born outside of the United States, the first being Louisa Adams who was born in England. Born in 1970, she would be the only one who was born and raised in a Communist nation.

She would also be the first First Lady who is the third wife of a President, although she would be the second First Lady to have married a divorced man – the first being Nancy Reagan. 

She would be the third First Lady with work experience as a professional model: Pat Nixon did so, on and off, in New York and Los Angeles before her marriage.

While studying dance with Martha Graham in New York, Betty Bloomer Ford earned an income working as a professional model. (Corbis)

While studying dance with Martha Graham in New York, Betty Bloomer Ford earned an income working as a professional model. (Corbis)

Also before her marriage, Betty Ford was contracted as a professional runway and print ad model in New York with the John Powers Agency.

As an immigrant who is married to a potential President that has made immigration a central part of his candidacy thus far, Melania Trump might well undertake some effort that helps or supports immigrant groups and their transition to American life as perhaps a humanizing public awareness campaign to counterbalance critics of her husband’s presumed views.

Many First Ladies used aspects of their own personal stories in a way that relates to or helps others like them – the best example being Betty Ford’s candor about her breast cancer detection and mastectomy. 

Eleanor Roosevelt had a lengthy career as a radio commentator with her own weekly show. She is seen here giving a radio broadcast on the BBC. (BBC)

Eleanor Roosevelt had a lengthy career as a radio commentator with her own weekly show. She is seen here giving a radio broadcast on the BBC. (BBC)

No federal law would prevent Melania Trump from continuing to manage and earn a profit from her business enterprises. However, federal laws would dictate that its earnings and addition to the family’s income would be publicly disclosed. The matter also has the potential for exploitation by political opponents of a President Trump.

The great example of this is Eleanor Roosevelt who insisted on maintaining her writing, radio, and lecture tour enterprises, despite the fact that many of President Roosevelt’s opponents in the media turned out editorials attacking the First Lady for what they characterized as her “undignified” commercialization of the presidency and his political opponents succeeded in getting her to disclose her profits.

Ultimately, it had no political impact on the Administration. 

Former First Lady Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton were guests at the 2005 wedding of Donald and Melania Trump. (CNN)

Former First Lady Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton were guests at the 2005 wedding of Donald and Melania Trump. (CNN)

Ironic historical fact: were the Trumps to come to the White House they would not be the first couple who had a First Lady (Hillary Clinton) as a guest at their own March 20, 2005 wedding.

Exactly 101 years and three days earlier, Eleanor Roosevelt had married Franklin Roosevelt with a First Lady and President as guests at their own March 17, 1905 wedding: her uncle and aunt, Theodore and Edith Roosevelt, then the incumbent President and First Lady.

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